ADOPTION MUSEUM PROJECT: Fiction, Rooted in Reality

By Nisha Grayson

I. Choosing to Search

The film Khoya (Lost) tells a story that most people may not know, but a story that many transnational adoptees fantasize about and few have actually experienced, including myself: search for birth family. I was twenty-five years old and fresh out of college when I began to believe that reuniting with my first family in Goa, India was possible. After much thought and support from my friends, I decided that it was my time to seek the truth about the events leading up to my birth and the first six months of my life prior to arriving in the United States.

Khoya (Lost) illustrates that time when some adoptees may stop, take a step back, turn around, and begin to look for missing pieces of their life. Writer/director Sami Khan tells the story of Roger, played by Rupak Ginn, an Indian transnational adoptee who grows up in Canada. After the death of his adoptive mother, Roger returns to India for the first time and begins to search for his birth mother in his foreign birth country.

II. Inspiration

The inspiration behind Khoya comes from Khan’s personal connection to adoption, one that is not often considered. As a young adult, he learned that before he was born, his mother had relinquished her first child for adoption. Khan had an unknown, older brother. As his family adjusted to the truth, worked through their pain and conflict, Khan developed a desire to ease the pain that his mother carried. He began to research more about his mother’s experience as a first/birth mother stories of search and reunion. He gained a better understanding of the adoptee experience after “seeking out experts that work specifically with adoption issues and and then talking to adoptees about those issues.” He continued his research by reading Daughters of the Ganges and The Girls Who Went Away among other publications by adoptee professionals. Throughout his exploration and writing, he recognized the themes of shame and secrets that silently weaved themselves throughout the stories. During this time, he fantasized about the experience his brother may have had as an adoptee, and about meeting his brother someday. As Khan and his family was changing, the script for Khoya (Lost) was evolving.

III. The Journey

In the film, Roger begins his search by leaving the winter temperatures of Canada and arriving to the humid, wet heat of India. He first visits his orphanage with his adoption records in hand and filled with hopes of being directed to his mother’s whereabouts. Roger is naive, yet passionate and determined to take up any lead he can find.  He runs into unforeseen roadblocks along the way, including forged documents, agency corruption, unexpected illness and deaths, and kidnapping to just name a few.

The cinematography and music choices in the film are absolutely stunning. The simplicity of the wardrobe, location, setting, and dialogue combined with the use of natural lighting and a steadicam created a dreamlike feeling. It’s as if you are walking side by side with Roger as he embarks on this deep and meaningful passage to reconnect to India, his birth mother, and also himself.

Although, Khoya is a fictional film, it feels rooted in some of the realities of transnational adoptees. As adults returning to India since birth, Roger and I share some of the same experiences of entering an unknown culture. In order to find someone, we both had to knock on doors and ask neighbors where they lived. “Down the road and ask someone,” was the typical answer I received. Like Roger, in the beginning of every conversation, I had to explain how I only spoke English. With the language barrier and inundation of information, we both reacted with long moments of silence to process. When I saw Roger look at the squatter in the restroom for the first time, I knew exactly how he felt. And sadly, I too have had public agency employees request I return the following day for answers about my birth mother, but instead disappear. It is these subtle, social challenges that many transracial adoptees are forced to face when they return to their place of birth.

Like most dramatic feature length films, the audience needs a sense of progress and a sentimental conclusion. Khan has no problem moving the story along and balancing the hurdles that Roger encounters. One hurdle that most adoptees often face is obtaining their original birth records or file. Khan included a scene where Roger obtained his adoption records, but one may miss the scene and the actual exchange because it was portrayed as an effortless request. Someone outside of the adoption arena may conclude that all adoptees have access to their documents and those documents can easily be obtained, but the reality is just the opposite for many transnational adoptees and U.S. domestic adoptees born in closed record states.

The conclusion of the film is surprising and unexpected. Khan’s intention was to “capture the sense of loss that he (Roger) felt, but to also be hopeful.” Khan’s choice to end his story can be seen as a reflection of his fantasies for his own reunion with his brother, his unique perspective, and how the journey continues past this stage of search and reunion.

As an adoptee, I appreciate Khan’s work and his decision to include the complexities of child trafficking, when to search, access to adoption records, the possibility of not finding first family members, and the initial cultural shock. Khoya (Lost) creates an opportunity to acknowledge and talk about these difficult realities of adoption in hopes of creating less shame.

IV. Inescapable

Khan has been in reunion with his brother and from the research he read, agrees that “reuniting with family members is like dating where it’s this very intense relationship, but you don’t really know each other. So, you have to set boundaries and respect for each other.” Khan admitted what he is “sensitive to all the time is the fact that he is the adoptee. What is my responsibility? I don’t want to him to feel a sense of being shunned or abandoned. I want to be there.”

Khan holds a position in the adoption constellation that we don’t often hear about, the sibling of an adoptee. Prior to the development of Khoya (Lost), Khan would find himself writing stories about siblings reuniting or being separated. It has been inescapable for him. Through his writing and the making of Khoya (Lost), Sami Khan offers us a window into his personal experience with adoption.


Nisha Grayson

Nisha Grayson earned her MS in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from California State University, Sacramento. She is a transracial, transnational adoptee from Goa, India and the subject of the film, YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past that documents her search for her first mother. Nisha shares her experiences and narrative at adoption conferences and trainings throughout the year. To follow Nisha’s adoption journey, please visit her blog, The Adoptee Diary. You can contact Nisha at

CREATIVE AWAKENING: "Khoya: Loss, Belonging, Meaning"

Khoya. Lost. The word lends itself to feelings of sadness and abandonment. Experience all these emotions and more in Sami Khan’s poignant drama Khoya, which follows the journey of Roger (Rupak Ginn) as he sets off from his hometown in Canada to find his birth family in India.

Khoya is a deeply evocative film that takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster with Roger through India. From encountering the consequences of corruption firsthand to traversing the road with nothing but the clothes on his back, Roger goes through significant trials and tribulations in his quest for family and belonging. As an audience member, I felt an immense amount of sympathy for Roger as he,a brown-skinned foreigner with a linguistic barrier, experiences in India for the first time. Issues of forged adoption papers and child trafficking bring in social messages about serious matters that are seldom spoken about but nevertheless plague the adoption industry worldwide.

Metaphors and symbolism are galore in this profound film, particularly with subtle subtextual references to different religious and spiritual traditions. The cinematography by Kevin Wongbeautifully captures realistic imagery of India in ways that are unlike the colorful over-the-top visuals often portrayed onscreen in mainstream cinema.

There is a lot to unpack in Khoya, from Roger’s identity struggles as an Indo-Canadian unaware of his Indian roots to his feelings of shame about being adopted. The film’s pace is mellow and contemplative, seeming slow at times, but it intentionally flows with the protagonist’s internal struggles throughout his journey. Contributing to the reflective vibe of the film, there are minimum dialogues so much of the story moves forward in silence through body language. Needless to say, Rupak Ginn has done an excellent job essaying the role of Roger. The directorial technique of flashback to introduce bits and pieces of Roger’s past is an interesting touch that adds more dimension to this ruminative drama.

Final Verdict: Khoya is a film that requires more than 100% of your attention while watching. Because there is so much to absorb, a thorough understanding and analysis of the film can only emerge from multiple watches. Visually grey and hazy with thought-provoking and reflective content!

Venue: 3rd i South Asian Film Festival (San Francisco, CA)

SARNIA OBSERVER: Khoya was written and directed by Sami Khan

By Paul Morden, Sarnia Observer

Sami Khan will be on familiar ground when his feature film, Khoya, is screened Nov. 26 at the Sarnia Library Theatre.

The New York-based filmmaker was born and raised in Sarnia, where the downtown library was a regular stop while he was growing up.

“It was really important for me, as I learned about the world and read books and borrowed movies,” he said.

The volunteer film group, cineSarnia, is hosting a 2 p.m. screening and reception Nov. 26 for Khoya, Khan's first feature film, which premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival in India. That was followed by a short run in Toronto and screenings at other festivals, including one last weekend at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

“My parents will be there, and old friends from high school,” Khan said about the upcoming Sarnia event.

“It definitely will be a much more intimate screening.”

Khan, who graduated from New York's Columbia University, spent more than six years making Khoya, a film he wrote and directed, about the story of a Canadian man who travels to India to find his birth family following the death of his adoptive mother.

While the story is fiction, it came “from a personal place,” Khan has said.

Khoya was shot in Toronto and Jabalpur, India, the hometown of Khan's father, and some of the locations there included homes and farms of his uncles, aunts and cousins.

Khan said he usually enjoys talking about his films at screenings, but said he's “freaking out” a little about the upcoming Sarnia event.

“The subject matter is inspired by personal history, so it is difficult to talk about,” he said.

“It is very close to not only me, but my family.”

But Khan added the film has resonated with audiences at previous screenings, “and I hope it does in Sarnia, as well.”

Khoya was supported by a Tribeca Film Festival fellowship, and two Khan short films were shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, including 75 El Camino, a 2009 film the Northern Collegiate graduate shot in Sarnia.

Khoya will be available Nov. 22 on iTunes in Canada, and is expected to available later on other online platforms.

Since completing the feature film, Khan has been working on a documentary about four young Cuban defectors chasing their dreams of playing major league baseball in the U.S.

He said one of his collaborators on documentary recently asked him what it was about the subject that caught his interest, leading him to the idea that baseball acts as a bridge between Cuba and the U.S.

“It had me thinking about literal and metaphoric bridges,” he added.

With the Blue Water Bridge between Canada and the U.S., the Sarnia area has a unique feeling of being between different places, Khan said.

“Being bi-racial, growing up Muslim, yet being in an overwhelmingly white and Christian place, meant that I had that sense of being in two places,” he said.

“I think that kind of character of Sarnia, really, is quite similar to my own make up.”

The documentary project is now moving into an intensive post-production phase, and the filmmakers are searching for the financing to complete it.

“It has been an incredible adventure,” Khan said.

“Stories about that metaphoric bridge between cultures are more important than ever.”

Khan said he finds it frightening to see how people are retreating into racial, religious or national enclaves, often through social media.

“As a human species, if we're ever to succeed and make it beyond the next 20 or 30 years, we have to start bridging those divides,” he said.

“And, I hope I can play some small part in that.”

If You Go:

What: Khoya, a feature film written and directed by Sarnia-native Sami Khan, is being screened by cineSarnia.

Where: Sarnia Public Library Theatre, downtown.

When: Nov. 26, 2 p.m.

Details: Tickets to the screening and reception, $15, are available at Gourmet Passions on Front Street and the Book Keeper at Northgate, and the regular cineSarnia season evening screenings, Nov. 20 and 21, at the library theatre.  

SARNIA THIS WEEK: Sarnia filmmaker brings his internationally-acclaimed film back home

By Carl Hnatyshyn, Postmedia Network

When Sarnia born-and-raised director Sami Khan was a student attending Northern Collegiate in the mid-to-late nineties, he said that he had no premonition whatsoever that he would one be screening his own full-length, critically-acclaimed feature film in front of audiences in Mumbai, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“I loved movies, but at that time no, I really didn't think that I would be doing something like this,” Khan said in a phone interview from his home in New York. “At that time I had no idea you could make a career out of filmmaking. It was only in university that I realized that it was possible, but I really had no idea when I was in high school. I made films in high school that were terrible, just an excuse to hang out with friends and get out of doing written assignments.”

In spite of his less-than-stellar cinematic beginnings in the hallways of Northern, Khan's passion for storytelling and filmmaking led him to New York's prestigious Columbia University, where he received a graduate degree in film in 2009. After getting two of his short films screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, in the summer of 2015 Khan released his first feature length film, Khoya.

Khan will be making a homecoming of sorts this Saturday, Nov. 26 as the film group cineSarnia will host a special screening of Khoya at Sarnia Public Library Theatre, along with a question and answer session with the director as well as a reception following the film, beginning at 2 p.m.

Khoya is the captivating, contemplative tale of a Toronto man who, following the death of his adopted mother, returns to India to try and find out about the birth family he has never known. Starring Rupak Ginn as protagonist Roger Moreau and set in both Toronto and Jabalpur, India (Khan's father's hometown), the movie is an introspective and highly-intriguing look at one man's odyssey trying to make sense of his place in the world and find his true 'home'.

The genesis of Khoya came from a very personal place, Khan said.

“A few years ago I had a long-lost sibling and as time passed I started thinking I wanted to look for them and to reach out to them, and those were the first iterations of Khoya,” he said. “Just me working out the feelings and experiences that might arise from that situation. Khoya is fiction but it was inspired by a real search and that was the genesis of it – the idea of searching and a reunion.”

Six years in the making, Khan's film survived a series of normally-fatal obstacles, difficulties and dilemmas before finally being premiered at the renowned Mumbai Film Festival in 2015. The fact that the film was so personal and so near and dear to him gave Khan the motivation he needed to see it through to the end.

“That's what carried me through some of the more difficult moments – on our second day of shooting in India religious riots broke out and two weeks before we started principal photography, we lost our lead actor. But the personal connection to it and the fact that the film was so close to my heart, that's what allowed me to continue,” he said. “I don't think I would have felt that way if it was a film about a superhero fighting off a doomsday machine or something like that.”

Since the film's release last year, both audience and critical reception to the movie have been extremely positive, something Khan said that he was pleasantly surprised by.

“It's a nice surprise because it's such a difficult and lonely process making an independent and personal film,” he said. “Everything these days is a sequel or a reboot or an adaptation of a comic book or a book, so to make a really personal film is a lonely experience.”

“I did have realistic expectations that maybe nobody would ever see the movie,” he added with a laugh. “So it's really nice to have people watching the film, but then to have critics write positive reviews, it's just gravy.”

Khan's interest in telling stories through the medium of film began in the hallowed halls of one of Sarnia's old movie theatres - the Industry - he said. It was by watching countless movies there that he was able to learn more about Canadian and western culture, cultures he was not entirely familiar with as the son of immigrant parents.

“When I was a kid, there were at least two or three movie theatres in Sarnia – there was one called the Industry. I had so many memories at that cinema – I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Home Alone there, it really had a big impact on me,” he said. “For me, because my parents were immigrants, movies became a necessity to learn about the culture because there were some things my parents didn't know about, so movies taught me. Things like how to ask out a girl, I had to figure out that stuff through watching movies.”

While Khan's influences are legion, he said that early films by directors Steven Spielberg and Spike Lee guided him towards where he is today.

“I just loved Steven Spielberg movies. He was an outsider, he was a Jewish kid growing up in the southwest and I could identify with that,” he said. “As I got older and became more aware of my cultural and religious identity and struggled with it, I really enjoyed watching Spike Lee's movies and see how he was able to explore really complex subject matter about racial identity and about America, his country. Those were two huge influences on me as a young man and they both inform me about how I go about making films today.”

Screening Khoya in front of a hometown audience will be an exhilarating experience, Khan said, although not one without a few jitters.

“I'm excited to screen the film with people in Sarnia,” he said. “I mean, I'm kind of a nervous wreck watching the film. I actually watched the film on the weekend after having not watched it for a year, and it was tough. I'm my own worst critic, so that aspect I'll have to rise above. But I'm excited to share it with friends and my family and screen it with the cineSarnia group – they've been there for over twenty years championing art house and independent films. I'm sure it's going to be a great event.” 

Tickets for cineSarnia's presentation of Khoya are $15 and include a screening of the film, a question and answer session with director Sami Khan and a reception (with snacks) in the theatre lobby afterwards. Tickets can be purchased at The Book Keeper (500 Exmouth St.) , Gourmet Passions (172 Front St. N.) or by phoning 519-542-3935.

Khoya will also be released on iTunes Canada later on in November. Details can be found on

CBC: "New film offers a 'glimpse of home' in an increasingly dislocated world"

Peter Knegt

It took over six years ago for Sami Khan to make Khoya, his feature film debut currently having a run at Toronto's Carlton Cinema.

"It's been a pretty exciting and grueling adventure," Khan told CBC Arts. "It's a drama with a brown guy in the lead who is on-screen for 99% of the film, so realistically — in terms of producing the film — that was the probably the biggest challenge in getting it made and getting it out there."

Khoya follows Roger Moreau (Rupak Ginn), a Toronto-raised, Indian-born man who heads to India on a quest to understand the circumstances of how he came to be adopted by a white Canadian couple. For Khan, who identifies as Muslim and bi-racial and was born to immigrant parents in Sarnia, Ont., the film was born out of the process of coming to terms with decades of family secrets and pain.

"When I was in university my mum told me that years before she had met my dad, when she was very young, she had a baby and she was forced to put him up for adoption," he explained. "Needless to say, it was a shock but I wanted to support and understand my mum. When I began the process of searching for my long-lost brother, I sketched out the first outline for Khoya. As I tried to come to terms with this hidden family history, I needed a way to work out these complicated ideas of loss and shame. The process of making the film, although it was incredibly difficult, has given me a greater understanding of not only myself, but my mum too."

Khan said that even after he was able to scrape together a budget for the film, he ran into an "insane" number of challenges trying to actually get it made. When he and his team were prepping to film in India, they lost their original lead actor two weeks before production because his visa didn't go through. Then, on the third day of production, religious riots broke out and authorities imposed a total curfew that they had to find very creative ways to work around. But even still, Khan doesn't consider any of those his greatest challenge in getting Khoya made.

"Right now, given the rapid pace of migration and technological change, it's really challenging to feel a sense of belonging."- Sami Khan

"Honestly, for me, the biggest challenge in making the film was battling my own emotions," he said. "I didn't fully realize how much power this family secret had over me and how vulnerable it would make me feel. I had a lot of strong people support me, including Rupak Ginn, who plays the lead of the film. Rupak and I have become like brothers and I cherish our friendship dearly."

At its core, Khan said Khoya is really about "home" and that he thinks that's something that resonates with people across racial and ethnic divides.

"Right now, given the rapid pace of migration and technological change, it's really challenging to feel a sense of belonging," he said. "You live in Vancouver, your sister lives in Halifax, your parents live in Barrie, your grandparents live in South Korea... I hope that for its brief 85-minute running time, Khoya maybe gives people who feel that sense of dislocation a glimpse at home."

Audiences will have more of a chance to do now with Khoya opening at Toronto's Kingsway Theatre on Friday and its run at the Carlton extended into next week